Monday, August 29, 2016

The Wolverhampton Flight

We had intended to start early today, to get to the Wolverhampton Flight and complete its 21 locks before lunch. And also to avoid as many other users as possible. But we overslept, and didn't leave our mooring until 9:00. There were very few other boats around. A good sign, we thought.

There was an old boat moored under the M54 bridge, and all sorts of tools and boxes and unidentifiable stuff stood on the concrete bank next to it. We passed slowly, as one does, and were startled by a very loud, deep voice in some alien language. A troll under the bridge, surely? And this thought was supported by the appearance from the boat of a huge hulk of a man, who walked down its length towards us. He bellowed again, totally unintelligibly, and stood and watched us retreat. We sped off, listening for strains of “I'm a troll, fol-de-rol, and I'll eat you for supper!”

Bridge 4, Pendleford Bridge, marked the start of an urban scene. The graffiti said it colourfully. Drab factories spread out to our left, and a noisy road ran alongside to the right.

It's 4½ miles from the fantasy-sounding Brewood to our right turn at Autherly Junction, and after another ½ mile, we took a sharp left turn at Aldersly Junction, bringing us immediately to the bottom lock of the Wolverhampton Flight. We waited for a boat ahead of us to go through the lock. Another boat waited behind us. So much for avoiding other boats!

The crew of the boat ahead alerted me to the need for the anti-vandal key at each of these locks, and I suggested that they leave the...

OK, this is going to get complicated! We now have two very different types of lock. The wet kind with gates that we use to ascend the canal, and the type with a key (in this case, the anti-vandal key) which is used to stop vandals from raising the paddles and flooding the place. To avoid confusion, the Locks which fill with water will be spelled with capital “L”. The other type will have a lower-case “l”. Sorted!

The crew of the boat ahead alerted me to the need for the anti-vandal key at each of these Locks, and I suggested that they leave the locks open for me, since I was going to be so close behind them. I, too, would leave them open for the boat behind us, and that crew would decide whether or not to leave them, too. There was no sign of another boat at the time. As it happened, the young lady doing the Locks took it into her head to close all of the locks next to which there was a sign reminding her to do so. This was almost invariably at one of the top paddles and one of the bottom ones – half of the locks! Over the total 21 Locks, it slowed me down, and the boat behind who had to wait for me.

The Locks went easily enough otherwise, and they took us 4 hours. There were occasional delays while we waited for another boat to descend the next Lock above us, and I had to empty almost every one for Kantara to empty. And it follows that the woman from the boat behind us had to do the same. But the locals were friendly, the boaters all in high spirits because of he weather. Lots of those coming down the flight spoke of meeting several others on their way to Pelsall.

 Three old guys sat at the side of one Lock, talking loudly and with considerable animation. All of them were recovering alcoholics, boasting with great pride how long they'd been “dry”, and encouraging each other to keep it up and never look back.

Three young men at Top Lock sat drinking cans of Coke and discussing what I first took to be philosophy, or perhaps advanced maths. I was impressed.

“What you have to do,” said one, “is decide how many unknowns there are, and then determine the time factors involved.”

In the minutes it took me to see Kantara up through the Lock, it became apparent to me that they were, in fact, talking about a computer game. It was the “And there's one that has hands like huge crab's claws, and it rips your head off if you don't get it right” that gave it away.

Sirens welcomed us into Wolverhampton. Sirens and flashing blue lights. We hurried on out towards the countryside again, to find somewhere to moor, to eat – we'd only had a piece of cake since yesterday's evening meal – to drink, and to spend the night.

Turning left onto the Wyrley and Essington Canal (aka the Curly Wyrley) we hoped to find a mooring soon. The canal was worryingly unkempt. We wondered at first if we'd wandered onto some disused backwater out of which we'd soon have to reverse. It's badly overgrown, it has narrow passes barely wide enough for a narrowboat because of that overgrowth, and it's appallingly littered.

There were three official Visitor Moorings. The first was very clean and tidy, but offered no form of security, was far too close for comfort next to a multiplex cinema and a MacDonald's, and had no other boats there. The second was very secure but unapproachable because of too-shallow water and too-numerous shopping trolleys. At the third, locals had added their own colourful comments to the RCR signage.

Back in the countryside now, lilies, rushes and reeds made the banks impossible for mooring, beautiful though they were. But eventually, far later than we'd hoped, we found a lovely, remote spot east of the Adam and Eve Bridge. Eight hours after we set out, we tied up for the night.

I phoned Ian Skoyles. Fuel was still leaking from the injectors. He agreed to meet us at 10:00 the next morning at Sneyd Junction, to fix the problem.


  1. Great blog. I'm setting off from Pelsall Junction on Tuesday heading off towards Stafford. Could you recommend any places to moor in Wolverhampton and whether there are places between locks on the 21 flight? Thank you.

  2. Thanks, Sean! I'm glad you're enjoying it. There was nowhere in Wolverhampton where we would happily moor. There are plenty of stretches between locks where it's possible, but, again, we wouldn't have been too comfortable there. It's all very public, and not all of the public looked sociable to us! Breewood has good moorings, though, and shops and pubs.

    Have a good trip!